The Hall of the Dead

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This article is about a short story. For the protagonist and principal character, see Conan the Barbarian.
"The Hall of the Dead"
Author Robert E. Howard
Original title "The Hall of the Dead"
Country US
Language English
Series Conan the Cimmerian
Genre(s) Fantasy
Published in US
Publication type Pulp magazine
Publisher The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Publication date 1967

"The Hall of the Dead" is one of the original short stories by American author Robert E. Howard starring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, a fragment begun in the 1930s but not finished or published in Howard's lifetime. It was completed by L. Sprague de Camp and published in the following works:

It has since been published in its original form in the following collections:

Plot summary[edit]

Howard's unfinished version[edit]

Gunderman mercenary Nestor is leading a squad of Zamorian soldier in pursuit of the thief Conan. In a mountain gorge Nestor trips over a Rawhide tripwire set in the high grass of the grove by Conan. The trap activates an avalanche that kills all of Nestor's men, but only lightly damaging Nestor himself. Enraged, Nestor pursuits Conan into the ruins of an ancient city and a battle between the two ensues. A hit from Conan renders Nestor temporary senseless and Conan, thinking Nestor dead, continues deeper into the ruins. As Nestor recovers Conan stumbles upon some unspecified monstrosity that he defeats by first hurling rocks upon it from an elevation and then finishing it off with his sword. Nestor eventually catches up with Conan outside a great palace in the middle of the city. Conan convinces Nestor to abandon his mission in favor of joining him in raiding the palace for treasure. Descending into the palace the duo eventually reaches a treasure chamber adorned with the bodies of long dead warriors. After gathering up some loot of coins and jewels the two throw dice for a jade serpent idol. Conan eventually wins but as he lifts the idol the dead warriors awaken. Conan and Nestor fight their way out of the palace and are eventually followed by only a single large warrior. As the three of them emerge to the sunlight outside the undead creature crumbles to dust. The two make for their escape, but an earthquake overspreads the ruins and separate the companions.

Later Conan is in a tavern with a wanton woman of his. Conan empties the bag of jewels on their table, but to his amazement they too, like the undead warrior, had turned to dust. The girl lifts up the leather-bag with the snake idol in it for Conan to examine, but soon drops it with a scream as she feel something moving inside it. At this a magistrate enters the tavern with a group of soldiers and have Conan driven up against a wall. It turns out that Nestor, having gotten drunk on the money of his that had not turned to dust, had told of his exploits with Conan in their presence and just barely escaped arrest. The magistrate confiscates Conan's leather-bag, but as he puts his hand into it he immediately retracts it with a shriek reveling a live serpent biting fast into his finger. The resulting turmoil allows Conan and the girl to escape.

L. S. de Camp's version[edit]

Conan is exploring the haunted ruins of the ancient city of Larsha in the country of Zamora, led there by rumors of hidden treasure. Behind him in pursuit is a squad of Zamorian soldiers sent to capture him for crimes of theft against rich merchants and nobles. Leading them is a captain from Gunderland named Nestor, and as he turns his head to berate his men for their constant chatter, he fails to see a rawhide tripwire set earlier by Conan. Nestor falls sprawling in the grass and sets off the trap as a large pile of rocks wipes out his men, leaving him battered and bruised but alive.

Enraged at the loss of his men and fearing the consequences of returning without his prisoner, Nestor decides to pursue Conan alone. He finally confronts him just outside the walls of Larsha as the young barbarian is searching for a way in. The two engage in fierce swordplay until Conan strikes Nestor in the head, penetrating his helmet and sending him to the ground unconscious.

Conan then makes his way into the deserted city and begins to thread the winding streets, recalling the tales he had heard concerning a horrible doom that befell trespassers, and soon confronts a monster in the form of a giant slug, fifty feet long with the ability to spit a corrosive acid with deadly accuracy. The slug chases Conan throughout the city until he climbs up to the roof of a decaying temple and manages to knock over some gargoyle statuary, one after the other, crushing the monster to death.

After climbing back down and making sure the slug is dead, he hears a familiar voice and turns to see Nestor confronting him again, this time with a bandaged head wound. Conan's blow had only succeeded in injuring him, but just as they are about to resume the combat they come to a mutual agreement to search for the treasure as allies and divide whatever they find among themselves.

They enter the royal palace of Larsha, intricately carved from a single large rock formation of black basalt, and where the treasure is supposed to lie hidden. They light torches to find their way through various passages and eventually come to a vault. Gaining entry, they discover inside a glittering hoard of treasure – gold, silver and jewels in a vast pile of splendour. However, guarding this ancient wealth are the mummified corpses of seven giant warriors seated in chairs, which promptly come to life and attack the pair of adventurers as they are gathering the treasure.

After a desperate fight, Conan and Nestor escape from the vault with the mummies in pursuit. As they follow them out into the dawn light the undead creatures immediately turn to dust, the necromantic spell broken. Then the earth beneath their feet begins to tremble in a great earthquake as walls and columns lean and fall. Conan escapes the final ruin of the city but Nestor is nowhere to be found. Calling his name and getting no response, Conan assumes the worst and heads back toward the city of Shadizar with his bag of plunder.

That night in Shadizar Conan swaggers into his favorite tavern and makes his way to the table where his sweetheart of the moment sits drinking alone and begins boasting of his adventure. He empties the contents of his treasure bag, seven priceless green jewels worth enough to buy an entire kingdom, onto the table and, like the seven undead guardians, they too crumble into worthless powder much to his chagrin. A magistrate then enters the tavern followed by a squad of the night watch with the intent to arrest him on his original charges of theft and the slaying of Nestor's men. As it turned out, Nestor survived the earthquake at Larsha and was discovered by the authorities drunk and like Conan boasting of his feat. When they had tried to apprehend Nestor he escaped but lost his loot to the police who made a dash to recover it for themselves. The magistrate who confronted Conan then reached inside the bag on the table where Conan's last remaining prize was concealed, a statuette in the form of a jade green serpent. As the man thrust his hand inside, the statuette came to life and bit venomously into his flesh, and in the resulting panic and confusion Conan made good his own escape.

On the road outside Shadizar, Conan and Nestor meet at a prearranged spot and share news of one another's misadventures. After accepting their fates with grim humor, the two amicably decide to part ways.

Adaptation[edit]

The Howard fragment was adapted by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith in Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian #8, and by Mike Mignola and Cary Nord in Dark Horse Comics' Conan #29-31.

Plot overview (2006 Dark Horse adaptation)[edit]

As the plot began, Conan was being hunted by the mercenary Gunderman and his master's army. Conan used a trap involving rocks to decimate Gunderman's unit, but the mercenary followed him into a mysterious abandoned city. Conan was quickly surrounded by red toads, who bring an idol to life. Drawn into the living toad idol's belly, Conan had a vision of a blind serpent and three mysterious robed men. He then cut his way out of the toad's belly and slew the magical beast.

Gunderman approached Conan, who offered to share the fabled treasure with him. Gunderman agreed, and the two thieves entered a tomb where three petrified sorcerers sat. Conan shrugged off another vision, and destroyed the corpses. Conan stole two green jewels while Gunderman filled his bags with gold; however, the destruction of the petrified corpses incited the rest of the guard to rise from the dead and attack the two men.

Conan and Gunderman drew the corpses into the sunlight, and they turned to dust. However, the city began to crumble and Conan barely escaped with his life. It appeared that Gunderman was lost, and Conan returned to the city to retrieve his girl and settle his debt with Gunderman's former master. Conan turned over the jewelled eyes, which appeared to come to life. Conan did not stay to see; he retreated with his female partner and ran into the night.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Drums of Tombalku"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"The Vale of Lost Women"
Preceded by
"The Tower of the Elephant"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"Rogues in the House"
Preceded by
Conan the Invincible
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
Conan the Fearless